Fried Perfection

Todd Coleman

All around the world, cooks fry sliced onions or shallots to a crisp to use as an intensely flavorful condiment. In Egypt, the national dish, koshary—a mix of rice, lentils, pasta, and vegetables—is topped with a layer of fried onions, and in traditional Eastern Europe Jewish cookery, onions fried in chicken fat are beloved in everything from kasha varnishkes to potato latkes. Across Asia, it's shallots that tend to be fried; they have a milder flavor than onions, and less juice, so they crisp up easily. In Vietnam, for example, fried shallots are sprinkled into soups and rice dishes. What's happening with fried onions isn't simply caramelization taken to the next step; cooking at a higher heat, the sugars on the outside are browning, leaving some of the flavor and juice inside the onion. "You want to slice them thinly, but not so thin that they cook too quickly and run the risk of them being bitter," says Serge Madikians, the chef and owner of Serevan restaurant in Amenia, New York. An Armenian raised in Tehran, he grew up eating fried onions sprinkled over the classic Iranian soup ash reshteh. He makes an important point: Whether it's shallots or onions you're frying, remove them from the oil as soon as they turn golden, as they continue to cook and crisp after they're pulled from the oil.